Our second week of school is almost over, and about now is the time that new children start to show their true colors. After the initial shyness and insecurity about the change of environment, they are starting to feel more confident and are increasingly exploring the boundaries of their new space. As the group awakens, it's also time for me to evaluate my environment limits. After changing the environment dramatically during the summer, I really wasn't sure how the children would respond to it until they were actually there, testing it!
To help regulate chaos, when problems arise in the classroom or outdoors, I'm trying to focus first on the physical environment:
- How can I change the environment so that it enforces a limit I want to set?
For example, we have a really nice tree with low overhanging branches. The children love to sit in it and climb. But some climb a little too high where I feel they could be in danger. I painted stripes on the branches to show how high it's ok to climb. I told the children, you may climb but just up to the lines. If the closet door keeps being opened and materials are being investigated, then either I can take out some of those materials that keep those curious hands opening the doors, or I can put a little lock on the door (we had to do that with the teacher's bathroom and the closet).
- When the limit has been set and reinforced with the environment but is still broken by some children, I have to decide how I can make the limit more clear, or talk with the children about why they think the limit is disrespected. Is it a necessary limit? Is there a way to translate it into children's needs and find another way of fulfilling it?
For example, children still run out of the sandbox without putting their shoes back on. I observed and noticed it was mostly the youngest three year olds. Perhaps they forget? Or perhaps they have trouble putting their shoes on by themselves, so they "forget" to. So I talked to them once more about why we have that limit (your feet are not protected in the garden without shoes on), and reminded them that they can ask for help with shoes if they need it.
- What to do when a limit is set but only one child continuously ignores it? In this case, I guess I have to consider the natural consequences or logical consequences if the natural ones are too vague or dangerous.
For example, we have a little low fence that separates the outdoor environment from the back of the school. The fence marks the boundary of where the children may play because anything beyond it is beyond an adult's line of vision. A little boy loves to run and jump over it. Hm. I don't want natural consequences to teach him anything in this case... So then I have to impose the logical consequence, "If you cannot play safely outside, then you can't be outside or you can't play."
Limits we've had trouble with: (of course, it's only the beginning of the year...)
- Only one person works with a material at a time
- Materials have to be put back before you take something else out (with the youngest three year old's)
- Only materials you've had lessons with can be chosen (again, with the tiny ones)
- The materials must be worked with gently
And for these types of issues, I'm trying Grace and Courtesy lessons as the main approach. I have found that sometimes having pictures of what I want them to be doing (ex. a photo of a child observing properly) and placing them somewhere where they can see and discuss them freely (like in the library, or next to the snack table) also helps.